By Lisa David
Chocolate milk in the water fountains. More Tzofim (Israeli Scouting). Better mattresses. More lake toys. A turf soccer field. Chipwiches every day for snack. These are just some of the notes I find when flipping through the “Director for the Day” notebook. Started in 2016, our Director of the Day program is a way that we recognize campers for their kindness, their behavior, and their leadership. Each Shabbat a different unit selects one Director for the Day, who is awarded a special T-shirt, and who wears an official nametag and carries the Director for the Day Journal as they spend the day shadowing and partnering with me as a Director. I spend time with them, taking them from activity to activity, meeting to meeting, stopping to connect with campers and staff to learn about what makes Harlam such a special community, and taking notes on what we can do to improve.
What is fascinating to watch is how immediately our campers are ready to take on this responsibility – how wiling they are to hear feedback, how serious they are about their responsibilities, how committed they are to making camp excellent. My first director of the day this summer, Izzy, a Gesher (Counselor in Training) program participant, joined me for a daily operations team check-in and when I jokingly asked her if she was bored after we went through the agenda filled with discussion topics such as laundry, breakfast in senior camp, lost and found, and broken appliances in the kitchen, she replied: “This is fascinating! I had no idea how complicated this was. I just want to learn more!”
While this sense of obligation and commitment, and readiness to take on a leadership role (however temporary) may be specific to those campers selected for this honor, I think that the culture here encourages that sense of empowerment. Camp provides opportunities to step up nearly every day. When speaking with potential staff members about why they should choose to work at camp, for example, versus gaining internship experience in “the real world” I speak often about the fact that camp is, quite literally, run by young people. While I am ultimately accountable for what happens here, the people that are creating the experience and community of camp are college-age and post-college age young adults. Similarly, when we talk about services here at camp, I am often humbled to see the leadership of our campers in song, prayer and reflection. We have many faculty here at camp – rabbis, cantors, educators, youth professionals – who have extensive training and experience in leading meaningful worship experiences. But camp is focused on and lead by our kids, and worship is no different. Seeing our campers share personal reflections, lead us in Hebrew blessings, and create beautiful works of art to interpret the themes of the service reminds me that their perspective and their wisdom should guide all of us.
From the moment that I was first engaged in conversation around becoming the Director of Camp Harlam, it has been important to me to demonstrate many models of leadership here at camp. As someone whose nature it is to support and coach others, it felt less natural for me to be a charismatic figurehead, making my presence known up in front. While I step up to do these things, I also want our campers and staff to see the value in a strong work ethic, who nurtures the growth of other leaders and models the Simon Sinek leadership principle that “leadership is not about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in your charge”. And as the first female Director of Harlam, I wanted other women and girls to see themselves in me.
And those models of leadership are demonstrated here not only by those with titles or positions that give them power. I see leadership in the way that campers put others needs first. I see leadership in the way that campers bring energy and enthusiasm into athletic competitions. I see leadership in the way that campers help to pick up trash. I see leadership when campers cannot stop offering new that support our effort to make Harlam an open and safe community.
I often talk about how my job is to be the steward of this institution, to help preserve the best of what it offers and to enhance and sustain it far into the future, a future that I will not always be a part of. And when I look at our staff and campers, I have great hope. They are already leading the way. Harlam builds their confidence, their resilience, their communication skills, and their ability to partner and collaborate. And they bring their creativity, their passion, their perspective and optimism. The present, and future are bright, indeed.
Lisa David is serving in her second summer as Camp Harlam’s Director after 15 years as a professional in the field of Jewish Camping. She is a former Harlam camper and staff member, and a parent of Harlam campers.